Saturday, 12 April 2014

Reigate Priory parkrun

On 22 March 2014 Reigate Priory parkrun held their inaugural event. Sadly I wasn't there because I was celebrating Riddlesdown parkrun's 150th event. However, this meant that I could save Reigate Priory and use it as part of my #7weeksofparkrun challenge.


Reigate Priory is a grade 1 listed building which was originally founded in the early 13th century and converted to a mansion in tudor times. The building is home to Reigate Priory Museum and Reigate Priory School. However the museum is currently closed for refurbishments.

reigate priory

Of course, I was here for the 65 acres of open parkland that surrounds the building. The parkland contains sports fields, a woodland area, a pond, formal gardens, skate park, tennis courts, croquet (crockwet) lawn, a children's playground, and a pet cemetery. You'll also find the Armada Beacon in the park, which was erected to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Armada.

a bit of history

For parkrunners arriving by vehicle, there are a few options - the official car park for the park (£1.20 for up to an hour, £1.90 for up to 2 hours) is just off Bell Street, there's also a large Morrisons car park that is adjacent to the park, this has lots of signs up notifying drivers that there's a two hour limit and that the car park is only for customers. Reigate and Banstead Council advise that anyone planning to visit the park for over three hours use Bancroft Road multi-storey car park.

run briefing

For those travelling by train, Reigate station is the place to head for and it's less than a kilometre away from the venue, so very easily walkable or warm-up joggable. Lastly, the cyclists - I haven't seen this many cycle racks for a long time. There are about 15 bicycle racks near the cafe / start/finish area, just adjacent to the playground. There are an additional 19 bicycle racks in the Bell Road car park and apparently some more in the Morrisons car park.

the cafe

The meeting point for the run is just outside the circular, ultra-modern (and very shiny) park cafe, which is also used as the post-run social venue. If you can find which segment of the design is the door, you'll be able to use the toilets inside, which are well presented, clean and painted in a shocking pink. The run takes place almost exclusively on grass and dirt trails, which can be quite uneven underfoot at times - with this in mind, I wore my trail shoes. In addition there is a short section on a man-made path, but if you were wearing spikes you could stay on the grass to the side. The southern half of the park is woodland and contains some fun roller-coaster-style undulations to play on.

the course is mostly run on grass

The run itself starts right next to the playground and takes place over a two lap course with a little bit extra to reach the start and finish areas (official course page). From the start, runners head north with the playground on their right, before crossing a man-made path and following the line of trees past the tennis courts and skate park.

the short section of path next to the pond

At the very end of the trees, the course does an almost-180-degree turn and the runners start to head south towards Priory Pond via a short up-and-over through a small cluster of trees. At the pond, the runners join the man-made path and follow it in a clockwise direction as it meanders around approximately a third of the pond before entering the wooded area, swinging left and up a short, steep incline.

the forest trail

Now with a dirt trail path underfoot, the runners head east along the roller-coaster path through the trees. The up sections take you higher than the downs give back and at the end of the trail the runners have reached the highest part of the course. Here, the course does another almost-180-degree turn (watch out for the tree roots!) and with grass underfoot once again, the runners head back towards the pond, passing the Armada Beacon on the way. Just before reaching the pond, the course has a couple of right-hand turns before taking the runners along the grass adjacent to the main tree-lined avenue that leads back towards the playground.

a fast down and then back up the other side (rollercoaster)

At the end of the avenue, the runners turn left and repeat the lap. At the the end of the second lap, the runners turn right, run back past the start line, left at the end of the playground and finally past the finish line. Then they collect ye ol' finishing position token and head off to have it scanned by one of the wonderful volunteers that will most likely be sat under the tree just after the finish area. If you'd like to check the hill profile, please feel free to have a look at my gps data from the run.

priory beacon

From the very second week (the first doesn't count), this run has been very well attended, with well over 150 runners on each occasion. I ran at event number 4 and there were 182 runners. It is a very nice park which seems to be quite heavily used for different sports activities. There are also quite a lot of dog walkers and I did have a little incident on lap one where a dog got a bit too excited around me - After the run I noticed that my shin was sore, looked down and saw that I was bleeding slightly. It's no more than a scratch but I can only assume this happened during the dog incident.

the finish area and volunteer scanners under the scanning tree

I really enjoyed running this course. Yes it was hard work, but you can't beat a bit of rollercoaster style trail running first thing on a Saturday morning! As far as the #7weeksofparkrun challenge goes, this was week 3 and provided me with my first 'r', my third county, and my third sub-20 (19.41) finishing time.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Aylesbury parkrun

Since records began, there have been 57 variations of the name Aylesbury. It was first recorded  as Æglesburghmeaning Fort of Ægle. However, no one known seems to know who Ægle is. Anyway, the only thing that really matters is that the town is now home to a free, timed, 5k run - Aylesbury parkrun. It is situated just outside the north of the town centre in a residential area which is right on the border of some scenic countryside along the banks of the River Thame - a tributary of the River Thames.

riverside walk

Upon arrival at the venue (by vehicle), you'll want to know where to park. The instructions on the course page are to NOT park in the community centre, but use the playing fields car park opposite the community centre because it is for users of the community centre and not for parkrunners. The playing fields car park is actually closer to the parkrun meeting point. For those arriving by train, Aylesbury Station is the one to aim for, and while it's not right on the doorstep, most people here for a 5k run would have no problem walking or jogging to the parkrun venue. Cyclists, well. I saw some bicycle racks in the community centre car park - maybe you can use those. If not, there is a fence adjacent to the childrens play area (I think it was a basketball court or five-a-side football pitch) near the finish that could be used.

some of the runners waiting at the meeting point

Toilets are available in the building adjacent to the car park and playing fields. The event director was just about to start setting up when I arrived, so he was kind enough to open one up for me to use (it had been a long drive). The piece of grass next to the children's play area (Meadowcroft play space) is used as the pre-run meeting point. Here, there is a smaller briefing for anyone new to parkrun (or indeed any first timers to the venue). At 9am the 400 metre walk to the start line begins. At the start line the proper run briefing is given.

part of the lollipop 'stick' section

The course is pretty simple to follow and forms the shape of a slightly mis-shapen lollipop. For anyone looking for a fast time, this certainly falls into the flat and fast category. From the start line, the course goes back towards the meeting point, but just before reaching it, the runners are directed left to continue on the riverside path. The path looks to be a mixture of concrete and tarmac sections, so road shoes are fine for this course. The path meanders through trees and every now and then the river is visible. Towards the end of the lollipop stick there is a playing field to the right and shortly after the runners reach the sweet part of the lollipop.

some decent views

The sweet part is run twice in an anti-clockwise direction. Upon reaching it for the first time, the runners simply continue along the concrete path until it reaches the main road (A413), a left turn here keeps the runners on the correct path and after crossing the river via a wooden bridge (could be slippery in the wet), the runners take a tighter left hand turn and run through an open grass area (but still on the hard path).

this is bridge number three (at the end of the sticky sweet lollipop loop)

At the end of this stretch, there's small bridge, then a left hand turn which leads onto another longer bridge to cross. After one sweet, sticky loop, the runners turn left to complete it again. If you are going to lap others or be lapped it'll be on this sticky section. If you are faster be prepared to weave around people and if you are slower be prepared for faster runners to whizz past you, possibly without warning.

another one of the lollipop stick (this time for the return journey)

The second time around, the runners turn right and head back along the lollipop stick towards the finish. At the end of the path the route goes out onto the pavement adjacent to a side road (which is on an ever-so-slight rise) before turning onto the grass area where the runner's originally met. The finish line and cheering crowds are here awaiting the runners' return.

just me, at the end of my pb run (18.28)

After the run, the community centre is used for some post-run socialising along with coffee and cake. Sadly, we couldn't hang around because we had to drive into Central London straight afterwards. Anyway, it's one of the younger parkruns (I ran at event 14) and it looks like it's shaping up to be a really nice community, which is just what you'd expect from the lovely world of parkrunners!

This venue was week 2 of my #7weeksofparkrun challenge. I also ran a new 5k personal best here.

Darent Valley 10k 2014

The Darent Valley 10k is organised by Swanley and District AC and takes place around the villages of Eynsford and Farningham, in Kent.

I entered the race a few days beforehand via the run Britain website and as I am (officially) an unattached runner I paid the full £15 registration fee. The cost for affiliated runners was £13. Each of those prices rose by £2 for on-the-day entries.

race hq at anthony roper school

As the race was fairly close to home, I had arranged to cycle down to Eynsford with my friend Terry (@rencestar) and he entered the race on-the-day. Upon arrival, we found a small set of bicycle racks and after locking our two-wheeled-steeds to it, we went into the race HQ. For the record, car parking was provided in a separate grass area adjacent to the school.

Race HQ was in Anthony Roper School. The bib collection tables were set up in the main hall and this is where the majority of the runners were hanging out and getting changed. It also doubled as the bag storage area. I changed into my So Let's Go Running singlet and pinned on my number.

time to get changed

There are some small toilets within the school and there was a long-ish queue. However, there were plenty of portaloos around the back of the school in one of the playgrounds. There was no queue at these and I had no toilet queue dramas (unlike the week before at the Paddock Wood Half-Marathon).

The race started from the school at 8.30am. Runners turned left out of one of the gates and headed north along the A225, which had become quite badly pot-holed (I think due to the wet winter we had just had) but the marshals were all very vocal in their efforts to ensure everybody passed through this section without tripping on one.

the bridge over the river... err.. darent (in farningham)

At the end of the road the course turns left to take runners through the village of Farningham before climbing a short hill out of the valley and turning onto Sparepenny Lane. Shortly after, it passes the 2k (8.01) and then 3k (11.21?) markers to head along the relatively flat country lane that eventually takes the runners back down into the valley at Eynsford.

At Eynsford, the course turns down Lullingstone Lane, passes underneath Eynsford viaduct - an impressive red-bricked sight featuring nine arches and passing 75-feet above the valley the runners are running along. The River Darent meanders to the left of the runners through the fields where highland cows are not an unusual sight.

eynsford viaduct and river darent

The runners continue along the lane which starts to undulate and then passes Lullingstone Castle. Just after passing the 5k marker (19.57), there is a water station and the smooth roads and paths give way to a stony path, this then turns into grass and then finally a downhill dirt trail. At the bottom of the trail, the runners are reunited with the smooth tarmac and following another brief section on a stony surface finally hit the longest and hardest of the course's uphill sections.

Towards the end of the uphill, the course meets the A225 and the runners soon pass the 7k (28.52) marker. It was at this point that I realised that I had quite a bit of work to do if I was to stand any chance of reaching my sub-40 minute goal finishing time. To save you the maths, I was running over 50 seconds behind the required pace.

just after 5k with lullingstone castle's gatehouse in the background [photo: mathew woolston]

Fortunately, the last 2 kilometres are almost entirely downhill (but with a few uphill undulations thrown in). So after passing the 8k marker and forgetting to check my watch, I started the push for the finish. The route brings runners back into Eynsford via the southern end of the village, past the train station and then down into the centre of the village. The finish line in the school grounds is further along the road, and there is one final, gentle incline just before the end.

Upon turning into the school entrance, there is a sharp drop which allows for a very fast finish over the last 30 metres or so, I glanced down at my stopwatch and saw that it said 39.54, so I sprinted as fast as my legs would take me, crossed the line and almost couldn't slow down in time to collect my medal from the marshals on medal duty.

the medal selfie

By the time I had stopped my stopwatch, the timing read 40.08 - I knew my finish time would be a few seconds faster but I didn't know if I had managed to break the 40 minute mark. Fortunately the results had been printed and were available for viewing in the main hall. My gun time was just over 40 minutes, but I wasn't right at the front when the race was started, so I checked for my chip time, which showed that I had came in just a few seconds under 40 minutes, in 39.57.

The course was clearly marked and the marshals were fab - I even knew some of them, so it was great to be cheered on by name as I passed (thank you!). The medal is slightly different to the standard run-of-the-mill offerings that are common at local races. Instead this one features an image of an interesting feature on the course - it changes from year to year and makes a nice change from the norm. The facilities were all fine, the only thing I didn't spot was a sign directing runners to the portaloos, but I'm pretty sure there would have been one and I just missed it.


After some water and bananas (and watching the awards ceremony), it was time to hit the road so we (the two of us plus our new So Let's Go Cycling recruit - Ben) took a lovely relaxing ride through the country lanes around Horton Kirby and South Darenth back to Dartford.

If you're interested in splits and all that (including hill profile) you can take a look at my gps data from the race. My 5k splits times worked out at 19.57 and 20.00 so that's a slight positive split - not bad considering the second half had the bigger hills (or inclines if you prefer).

17th overall

Time: 40.05 (gun)
Time: 39.57 (chip)
Position: 17th (out of 319)
Link: Official Results

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Paddock Wood Half-Marathon 2014

I was supposed to run the Paddock Wood Half-Marathon back in 2012, but my running wasn't going so well and I made the decision to sit it out. Fast-forward to the end of 2013 and I finally felt that my training was in a good place, so I coughed up the cash and put my name down for the 2014 event.

All was silent until one day at the beginning of March and an envelope popped through my door from Sports Systems. I recognised it from the last time I had entered. Enclosed were my race number, timing chip, race day instructions, course map and a baggage tag.

This was my second race where I would be representing the 'So Let's Go Running' running group, so I had already attached my number to my SLGR singlet and was looking forward to representing the running group again (the first time was at the Knole Park 10k). The weather forecast was for a dry, partly cloudy day with the temperature at around 13 degrees at race start time, rising by a couple of degrees shortly after and the wind was at most just a fairly light breeze.

The Paddock Wood Half-Marathon is a popular event and 2014 marked the 25th year that it had been run. The course is described as being a flat PB course, and my goals were based on this.

Goal 1: Beat my previous PB (1.33.08, which I ran at the Headcorn Half-Marathon 2014)
Goal 2: Run under 1 hour and 30 minutes (sub-90 minutes)

Upon arrival, I parked in the main event car park which is in an industrial estate. There were other parking options including the train station, but there also seemed to be some other third-parties offering parking for a price. The only possible downsides with the official parking were... A. There aren't very many spaces so you have to arrive early. B. You can't leave until almost every single runner has completed the course, this is because the car park is located behind the finish line and there is simply no way out until the road re-opens.

There were a bank of toilets, male and female changing areas, a bag drop area, an official t-shirt stall, a medal engraving stall, and a shoe stall. It wasn't until I was being nosey around the official t-shirt stall that I noticed that the back of the t-shirt featured the names of every runner that had entered the race - really cool, I thought. So after an unintended extended warm-up jog to a cash point machine, I coughed up the £10 for one.

The course is almost completely flat. Every now and then there is a little undulation to deal with, but I found that I was able to maintain the same pace without too much trouble. During the route around the countryside outside of Paddock Wood the scenery is pretty much exclusively farmland. The course does go through a couple of smaller villages and there is some great support on offer. There were four water stations and an additional two water sponge stations on the course.

The race start time was 9.30am. At 9.05am I got in the queue for the toilets. At 9.27 I finally got to the front of the queue. So by the time I reached the start area, I found that I had to start a long way further back than I had intended and had something like 1,000 people in front of me. Once the race had been started, it took a full two minutes for me to reach the start line. So, the toilet situation is going to be my only gripe about the race - The amount of toilets (I think 31 of them plus a urinal) did not seem enough for the amount of runners.

Once I was finally on my way, I immediately started trying to filter through the crowds. It wasn't easy and it worked out that I was about 30 seconds down when I reached the 1 mile marker. It would have been easy to panic and try to get back on pace straight away, but I knew that that would most probably put me in a bad state towards the end of the race, so I kept to my intended pace plus a little extra when it felt right and kept my eye on my splits in order to try to gradually get back on track.

It worked out that throughout most of the miles, I remained about 20 seconds adrift of my times for hitting each mile marker. I knew this because I had used the Marathon Guide website to create a wristband with my goal time as being 89 minutes. My original idea was that I would start the race in the correct zone and try to remain well under the times listed. Anyway, the plan had changed and that was fine - these things happen.

I passed the half-way marker at 45.01 - I had hoped to be there a touch earlier but I felt strong and was confident of finishing in under 90 minutes. Finally at about the 8 or 9 mile point, I had started hitting the mile markers at the split times listed on my wristband. It had taken almost an hour of patience but I had caught up. Just after the 10 mile marker, I felt like it was time to start increasing the pace. Each of the last 3 kilometres were progressively faster than the last and although I was starting to feel a little tired, I was able to keep pushing right until the end.

I crossed the finish line with the gun time showing 1.30.43 (90.43), but with the two minute delay at the start, my actual half-marathon time by chip was 1.28.44 (88.44). So I had achieved both goals that I had set myself. I was given a goodie bag and my medal, the water in the goodie bag was much appreciated after the warm weather conditions. The medal is probably my favourite medal to date - They had their own bespoke design and with this being the 25th running of the event, it was pretty special.

This was a very well organised and brilliant race. The marshals were all friendly and the signage around the course ensured that there was no way of getting lost. The t-shirt with the names of all of the entrants printed on the back was such a brilliant idea and I'm glad that I bought one. From those points of view I would almost certainly enter this race again. I'd just ask for some extra toilet facilities to be provided to try to prevent the queue from building up so much.

The timing was taken care of by Sports Systems. I recieved a text message a few hours after the event containing my result. They were also published online later that day.

By gun time, I was 217th out of the field of 2070. After looking at the results in more detail, 41 people finished in front of me but with a slower chip time and one person behind me finished quicker than me. So I think that works out that I was 177th out of 2070 if you base it on the chip times.

Looking at my GPS data from the race. I'm happy with my nice even split times throughout the race. Obviously apart from the 1st where I was busy filtering and lost some time. The GPS readings brought the course out a little long but I was taking a lot of the corners wide in order to pass people on my way around, so I expected this. My fastest kilometre of the race was the 21st, which I managed to run at a pace quite similar to my current 10k race pace - It makes me wonder if I took it a little too easy.
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